Ironed shirts and handkerchiefs

The laundry floor is cold, even through her socks, but she can’t put her shoes back on. Not now. She could get another pair of socks, or the slip-on flip-flops, but if she leaves, she won’t come back and she has already offered. A gift of five ironed shirts.

‘It’s a present,’ she has promised, ‘not a precedent’ and the joke gets better as she relives it in her mind.

The iron ticks itself warm and the collar is first. It makes her think of her mother and wonder why did she teach me to iron, but not to sew?

The part after the collar, what’s that called? She reaches for the word. Is that the yoke? If she had learnt to sew, she would know. Collar, yoke (if that’s what it is), cuffs, then sleeves.

You need to set the sleeves up carefully. It’s quite a trick, isn’t it, flattening down the seams and not doubling up the fold. No tramlines. They are her mother’s words. When the shirts are striped, as many of them are, the fold might still be crisp, but it never lines up right. It makes a satisfying job less so.

The heat of the shirt on her hand, the creak of the board, the kink of the cord, these are the things that have always been.

And the sigh of the iron when you rest it on its base.

Was that asbestos, that piece of grey at the end of her mother’s ironing board?

The shirt is back on its hanger, hooked over the laundry door. She begins again. Collar, yoke, cuffs then sleeves. It depends where you are in life, whether ironing is the cold of Monday morning or the warmth of Sunday night.

When she has finished the shirts, she does the handkerchiefs because they are there and because she likes the smell of cotton warmed by an iron. Handkerchiefs don’t take long.

She does the handkerchiefs in squares, because it’s squares for a man. Grandma taught her that. Squares for a man. And triangles for girls.

And when Grandma packed the bag at the end of the holidays, she put in the knickers, the bathers, the shorts, all clean, and the handkerchiefs. Ironed. Triangles for girls. Grandma said I wonder what your mother will think about that. Did she lift her eyebrow or sniff after she spoke? Triangles for girls. Because it was the same voice she would use to say it’s hard for mothers, mothers lose their sons.

And it depends where you are in life. Sometimes ironing is a gift to someone else. And sometimes a gift to yourself.

0 thoughts on “Ironed shirts and handkerchiefs”

  1. Certainly is.

    Ironing is an excellent gift. Working my way through to what Helen Garner has called ‘the utter bottom of the ironing basket’ has become my standard thank-you note whenever I’m a house guest.

  2. Certainly is.

    Ironing is an excellent gift. Working my way through to what Helen Garner has called ‘the utter bottom of the ironing basket’ has become my standard thank-you note whenever I’m a house guest.

  3. My god that was good.

    Oh and Pavlov’s Cat? I hereby warmly extend you an invitation to come and stay. I have things in my ironing basket that have been there for years.

    (A couple of years ago three girlfriends and I went away for a weekend in the country. One of the women hung a beautiful white linen shirt up in the bathroom. Target, size 8. My size, my budget. Hmm, I thought, I like that, I should buy myself one. A couple of weeks later I spotted the identical shirt in my ironing basket. Oh yes! I remembered, I already did! Jesus …)

  4. Rules for ironing teatowells. Fold neatly, place under couch cushions, sit still while watching telly and doing the other ironing. Helps to have a large backside.

    Sorry I’m so late with me comments but I lost you.

  5. Enjoyed the writing.

    Except. Collars are always last. First. Slip sleeve /shoulder /yoke over pointy end of board, one at a time and iron. Down at big end of board do front side, then pull shirt over a bit more and do back, do pleat witha hard iron at the top but only goa third of the way down to avoid the “tram tracks” stripes not lined up problem. Then pull shirt further over and do other front bit, don’t forget in between the buttons. Then flip shirt on board and do one sleeve one side, flip sleeve over and do other side, then do other sleeve the same. Then, and only then, do collar laid flat out, then do collar folded back in wearing position. Hang shirt on proper hanger.

    Some people iron ahead, I prefer Just In Time Ironing.
    Warning: if cat sleeps on ironing board, Just In Time Ironing can lead to much sweary behaviour.

    Still unresolved issue in househaold is where (what room) ironing board should live and how. I prefer always up and in working position.

  6. fxh – iron ahead ironing is excellent for times when you need to feel in control. You demonstrate superior ironing technique, but I will never be able to do the collar anything but first. I think it is a meditative thing, a time for getting yourself in the moment.

    and zoe, what can I say?

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